10/12/2008 - 22:00

Forrest drives indigenous employment initiative

10/12/2008 - 22:00

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WHEN Andrew Forrest does things he doesn't do them by halves.Having stormed the world of iron ore, shaking up the BHP Billiton-Rio Tinto Pilbara duopoly and briefly becoming Australia's richest man, he focused his sights on one of Australia's most intract

WHEN Andrew Forrest does things he doesn't do them by halves.

Having stormed the world of iron ore, shaking up the BHP Billiton-Rio Tinto Pilbara duopoly and briefly becoming Australia's richest man, he focused his sights on one of Australia's most intractable issues - indigenous unemployment.

In August, Mr Forrest took centre stage with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to announce a major initiative, the Australian Employment Covenant, which has a target to rally employers to commit to create 50,000 sustainable jobs for indigenous people.

The objective was to see this sector of the Australian community weaned off welfare and exposed to permanent full time paying jobs.

AEC's Mal James said the initial funding for the project came from the Australian Children's Trust, a charity established by Mr Forrest several years ago.

Mr James worked with Mr Forrest at his previous company, Anaconda Nickel.

"As long as I have known him, Andrew has wanted to do something with the Aboriginal people who he grew up with," Mr James said.

The AEC plan has two key elements those involved believe set it apart from other attempts.

One is providing a short, intensive training course that is relevant to the work being proposed, to better prepare the participants.

The second is on-the-job mentoring with the employer, to ensure the employee has a better chance to make the position sustainable and break out of a cycle of unemployment.

Mr James said one of AEC's roles would be to assist the mentors to ensure they had the skills to meet their side of the bargain.

Of course, there is another element that AEC brings to the table - Mr Forrest himself.

Few business leaders would have the drive and character to pull the highest levels of government into such a project; it's one of the biggest advantages that human headlines like the Fortescue Metals Group chief can bring to any philanthropic cause.

"Andrew can open doors the team can't," Mr James said. "Where he has the time and availability, where we need him, we call on him to make the phone calls where necessary and call on people in person."

There is another touch of Mr Forrest in all this. AEC is strongly committed to some tough targets. Having reached 7,500 jobs already, the group wants 25,000 by February 1 and 50,000 by August 2010.

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